I hadn’t been in Santa Fe more than two weeks. “I guess we won’t be telling many Polack jokes now,” one of the members of my new congregation quipped. I grinned and responded, “No, not telling many Chopin jokes either,” I remarked.
Of course I had to smile. To do otherwise would indicate I didn’t have any sense of humor. Dago jokes, kike jokes, nigger jokes, chink and wop jokes are considered to be in bad taste now. But somehow Polack jokes still pass under the radar.
Really, I consider myself more American than Polish. My father died when I was five, and I was never really encouraged to stay in touch with the Kowalski side of my family. Why should I? They were Polish.
They were Polacks, like Copernicus. Like Marie Curie. Like Joseph Conrad. Like Lech Walensa, the leader of Solidarity who as much as any single individual brought down the hegemony of the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War.
Or like Tadeusz Kościuszko, whose fortifications of Saratoga in New York during the American Revolution led to the defeat of the British General Burgoyne and the turning point in the colonists’ war for independence.
I don’t even know where my father’s family originated in Poland. I’m a fully assimilated, non-ethnic, generic U.S. citizen. But I wish I knew more about my national heritage.
And I wish I didn’t feel still so small—belittled--whenever I hear a Polack joke.